Author: Caroline
Pairing: 1+2
Rating: PG-13-ish
Notes: This doesn't go anywhere and there's no definite ending. Just a little ficlet thingy for Kwyck because I lurves her.

The Morning After

Ever since I could remember I have always made the transition from sleep to being awake instantly. It's never been a gradual process for me. I could be in the middle of the most amazing dream or dead to the world in the deepest sleep of my life, and the next minute I would be wide and instantly awake - a useful habit for a soldier to have, only I've had it all my life.

So when I woke that morning, in the pale gray light just before dawn, I was instantly aware of two things.

It was way too early for me to be awake.

And I wasn't alone in my bed.

My breath caught in my throat. I lay there, frozen in the dim light for a moment, until my companion moaned softly and turned over to face me and the memory of the night before came flooding back.

I let out the breath I'd been holding as I stared at the sleeping face of the man beside me. Heero. His tousled head was resting on my rumpled spare pillow, one hand half-curled next to his face. And while he didn't look exactly innocent, lying there with his chest bare, the sheet barely covering his hips, I thought Heero looked much more vulnerable in his sleep. The worry lines that creased his forehead during the day smoothed away as he slept.

The wars still haunted him. Haunted us all, really. But I think Heero had the hardest time adjusting to the concept of peace. The Earth Sphere and the colonies weren't at true peace after the second war, but they weren't exactly at war either. Preventer was created to quell the small uprisings that still popped up from time to time, but for the most part, the wars were behind us. And those of us who'd played a part found ourselves floundering to fit in afterwards.

Wufei, surprisingly, adjusted the easiest. He found his place with Une and Sally at Preventer. He was still a soldier, but he was at peace with himself.

Trowa wandered for a little while, before he ended up back at the circus with Catherine. He told me once that Cathy reminded him of the leader of the mercenary group he'd traveled with as a child; gruff on the outside but honestly loved him and wanted to take care of him. He had told me he'd missed that, having someone take care of him, and he wanted it back. Of all of us, he seemed truly happy.

Quatre went back to his family, too, though relations between him and his sisters have been strained. He's still trying to live up to his father's legacy. He is often stressed, but he is in his element. He said once that running a corporation is like planning a battle campaign - every bit as ruthless and sometimes as bloody. He may not be deliriously happy, but he enjoys the challenge.

I ended up with Hilde in a scrap yard. It wasn't glamorous and it certainly wasn't my life's goal to be a scrap dealer. But I, too, found myself at a loss of what to do with my life, now that the fighting was over. I thought perhaps to work for a while, earn some money while I tried to figure out what to do with my life. But eventually I fell into the routine of the scrap yard. That and the physical labor helped keep my nightmares at bay, at least most of the time.

Heero, on the other hand .... Heero disappeared after the end of the second war. No one heard from him for months, not even Relena, whom he'd been closest to, besides me, during both wars. I'll admit I had been worried, but I knew Heero could take care of himself, despite whatever demons may have been following him. At least I hoped. But as the months passed with no word, I admit I was a bit anxious about him.

So when he suddenly showed up at my door one day, duffel in hand and looking for a place to stay for a while, I was... surprised to say the least. And relieved. I invited him in, and showed him into my spare room. Hilde had long since moved on, looking to start her own life, so I had the room.

We talked a lot that first night. Heero didn't tell me where he'd been, only that he'd wandered for a while before finally getting tired of never being in one place for very long. He asked, almost timidly, if he could stay with me for a while. I shrugged. Why not? Hilde was gone and I could use the help with the yard. And it might be nice to have someone around who understood. At least, those were my thoughts at the time.

Heero was a good worker. He was still stronger than me, so I let him do all the heavy lifting that didn't require the use of a crane. I took care of the books mostly, and between the two of us and the part-time hired help, we managed to pull in a small profit for the first quarter Heero was with me. I paid off a few debts. Heero bought some new clothes to replace the worn garments he'd brought with him.

We went out, on occasion. Always someplace cheap and gritty and which usually left us crawling out of bed in the middle of the night for antacid. But we had fun. I had almost forgotten what "fun" could be like, and somehow, I don't think Heero ever really knew.

We spent an awful lot of time together - not hard when you don't have any other friends. We made meals together, watched mindless vid programs, played chess. We played a lot of chess. So much chess we started making up our own rules just to keep it interesting. A word to the wise - never play Kamikaze Banzai Chess with Heero. He'll clean you out.

It had been almost a year since Heero moved in with me when I noticed the look. We'd been making dinner in the closet that passed for my kitchen when I glanced up from chopping carrots to see Heero staring intently at me. I asked him if something was wrong, but he just shook his head and continued cleaning the chicken.

For some reason that moment stayed with me, though I didn't really think any more of it until a few weeks later. We'd borrowed a couple of movies from an employee and decided to have a late night viewing. Only I had been more tired than I thought and had fallen asleep halfway through the second movie. I woke up a couple of hours later, somewhat embarrassed to find my head in Heero's lap. I had looked up at him, the light of the vid screen casting a blue tinge in the darkened room, and found that Heero was also asleep. I tried to sit up, only to find my braid caught on something. A little twisting and I saw what was wrong - Heero was clutching it in his sleep, had it wrapped around his fist. I blinked at him for a moment before shrugging and laying back down with my head in his lap. We slept that way the whole night. And though I woke the next morning with a crick in my neck, I discovered I had slept better than night than I had in... I couldn't remember how long.

After that, I was more aware of Heero. I would catch him looking at me, would notice when his hands would linger just a heartbeat longer than a casual touch should. And then I began noticing my gazing lingering on him, and a peculiar flip-flopping sensation in my stomach whenever we touched. I didn't know what to make of it. Not at first, anyway.

It was raining when he told me he loved me. We had gone out, like normal. Ordered a meal, drank a little beer, played some darts - one of our typical nights out. But we had failed to check the forecast and had gotten caught in the rain on our walk home. I didn't notice when he started lagging behind, not until I got to the crosswalk and noticed he wasn't with me.

I looked around and noticed him standing a few meters behind me, getting positively drenched, staring at me with a pained look on his face. I asked him what was wrong. He told me he had something to tell me.

"What?" I said, suddenly feeling scared. Was he sick? Had he had enough of colony life and wanted to leave? I was almost afraid to hear the answer. Instead he walked to me, slowly, looked me in the eye and told me he was in love with me.

I... don't really remember what I said. I was too shocked to say much of anything that was coherent. He told me he had loved me for a long time and that he couldn't keep it to himself anymore. It hurt him that he hadn't been able to tell me. He also said he understood if I didn't feel the same, and that he hoped our friendship could continue, but if I couldn't handle it, he would understand and would leave.

I didn't answer him and he left me there, alone, standing in the rain.

I don't remember making it back to the house we shared. I do remember being relieved he was still there, though in his room with the door closed. But I could hear him moving around as I made my way into my own room.

Sleep didn't come that night. I lay awake, trying to process what Heero had said. Heero. In love. With me. It was nearly dawn before I admitted to myself that I wasn't exactly... adverse to the idea. But he was my friend, he was male, and I had never contemplated my own sexuality before. I had never had room in my life for love. Love had been ripped cruelly from me once, and I wasn't sure I could let it into my life again.

I told Heero the next morning that I appreciated that he had finally told me, and even though I didn't know how I felt, I did know that he was my friend and that I wanted him to stay. Heero looked both relieved and disappointed, but he said he was happy, just being near me. Then he placed his hand over mine briefly, squeezing it, before letting go and leaving the room.

I hate to admit I kinda avoided him for the next couple of weeks. But I think he understood that I needed some space to think. Gradually, hesitantly, we started getting close again, eating together, going out together, living together. I hadn't realized how much I missed just being with him until we spent some time apart. A couple of those nights when I came home, he hadn't been there. There was an ache in my chest at the thought of him not being there ever again, and that's when I knew I wanted him in my life. Not just as a temporary housemate, but for a long time.

He was my best friend, maybe he could be more.

I still wasn't sure about all that love stuff, so I agreed to a trial period of "dating." I figured we could go out, get to know each other better, have a good time and see where it took us.

Heero just looked at me and said, "Like what we've been doing for the past year?"

I admit, he had me there.

He seemed to understand what I meant though. We set aside "date" time. He would "pick me up" in my room and we would go out. I was really kinda nervous at first. What should I do or say? Would he want to hold hands? I wasn't sure I was ready for physical intimacy. And Heero understood that. He didn't pressure me, but he seduced me in other ways. A look, a lingering touch... his eyes could make me breathless, leaving me weak in the knees.

But he never made a move. He was waiting, I think, until I caved. Bastard. We had progressed to the hand-holding point after a couple months and had just returned home from a movie. Only I hadn't been watching the movie, I had been watching Heero. More specifically, Heero's lips. I had been fantasizing for a while what they would taste like, what it would feel like to kiss him. And I was tired of waiting for him to make the first move.

When he "dropped me off" at my room that night, I made my move. As he said good night, I leaned in and pressed my lips quickly but firmly to his. I think I surprised him. I said my good nights and slipped into my room, closing the door behind me.

He tasted good.

After that, the good-night kiss became part of our ritual, whether we went out or not. And the kisses got longer, bolder, sweeter. And with the kisses came the touching. It did unnerve me a bit, feeling the way I did about another man, but... it wasn't just another man. It was Heero.

It was another month before we entered the making out phase of our relationship. I enjoyed this phase. A lot. I loved how Heero could make me dizzy-breathless with just a kiss and a touch. There were long nights spent in front of the vid screen, which we completely ignored, curled up together on the couch. Little by little Heero worked past my inhibitions, always pulling back when I felt uncomfortable or, dare I say, skittish. He was a patient teacher. And I was, mostly, an eager and willing student.

But I never told him I loved him back. I still wasn't sure I could. Either because I had trouble trusting love (as he said) or because I couldn't bring myself to admit to loving another man, even if that man was Heero (as I thought).

But he was persistent. While he allowed me my space, he would not let me retreat from any progress we made. He left me breathless and wanting more, only more of what I was either unsure of or too scared to admit to myself. But then, one night, as we lay on the couch together, engaging in another one of those intense roving-lips-wandering-hands sessions, we must have been more tired than we thought because we both fell asleep on the couch, me laying on top of him.

I woke up first, instantly, like always, in the middle of the night, to find myself curled against his shoulder and his arms around me. I felt warm, safe... and something else. I raised my head, watched him while he slept. He was... I know beautiful isn't really an appropriate term for a guy, but that's what he was. Beautiful. Inside, outside... all of him. And then, I knew.

I couldn't breathe. I'm afraid I panicked a little, woke him up as I pushed away.

"Duo?" he asked, sitting up, looking at me both concerned and confused at the same time. "Are you all right?"

I nodded, then shook my head. "I... I..." I sat down, right there, on the floor, and hid my face in my hands.

I heard Heero slide off the couch to crouch in front of me. He gently pulled my hands away from my face and made me look him in the eye. "What's wrong."

I swallowed. "Nothing. Nothing's wrong." I don't tell lies. Nothing was wrong. And that's what scared me.

He placed his hands in mine. "Tell me what's bothering you."

I took a deep breath. "Nothing. Really. Just... don't leave, okay?"

"I'm not going anywhere, Duo." I could tell I was confusing him.

I shook my head again. "No. Just don't leave me. Ever. Okay?"

He looked at me, puzzled, for a moment, before something dawned on him and he smiled. A true, genuine smile. Beautiful.

"I won't."

That was all he needed to say. That had been a week ago. And last night, we had finally taken that last step. The memory of what we did, together, in my bed, made me feel warm inside. Safe. Loved. It had been so amazing, after we had finally gotten the hang of it, that it almost seemed like a dream. But the dull ache in my lower regions and the sticky reminders elsewhere reminded me that it had most definitely NOT been a dream. I stretched and smiled. Not a dream. Thank God.

Heero breathed in his sleep. I slipped my hand into his, just content to watch him. He was here. He was mine. I was his. Whatever. We just... were.

He stirred, opened his eyes and smiled at me again. And in that moment, I was lost. I had just been merely existing, before Heero came into my life. My life had been one of uncertainty, living from moment to moment, counting each breath, ticking off the hours of my life.

There's an old saying that says not to measure your life by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. When Heero opened his eyes and looked at me, my breath was stolen and I knew my life would never be the same. And I didn't want it to be.

"Good morning," he said, squeezing my hand, pulling it to his mouth so he could kiss the backs of my fingers.

"Morning," I murmured in reply, shifting closer.

He put his other arm around me, his thumb tracing an idle pattern on my back. "Did you sleep well?"

"Eventually." I closed my eyes, pressing into his warmth.

He breathed against my forehead. "Did I hurt you?"

I opened my eyes and batted his arm. "I told you last night. No. Just sore. And a bit... crusty." I made a face and sighed against his shoulder. "I just... I mean, last night was... amazing, Heero. You were amazing." I pushed up a little, so I could look down at him. "And I wanted to tell you I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" He frowned, reaching up to push my hair away from my face. "What are you sorry for?"

I leaned down and kissed him, ignoring morning breath and all that, before lifting up again. "I'm sorry because, all this time, I've been so busy asking myself if I could love you, that I never stopped to ask myself if I *did*. And I do. Love you." I kissed him again, longer this time before pulling away. "I love you, Heero. And I'm sorry it took me so long to figure that out."

He pulled me to him again. "I know." He smiled at me again. "At the risk of sounding clichéd, I could see it, when you looked at me." Another long kiss, one that made my toes curl. "And I love you, too. And it is far too early for us to be awake."

I laughed a little and settled down against him. "Shall we sleep some more?"

Heero settled his arms around me and nodded. "I'd like to." He let one hand drift down my back. "You can wake me up properly in another hour or two."

I chuckled again, closing my eyes, feeling warm and content. "Anything you want."

"I just want you, Duo. Love you," I heard as I let myself drift back to sleep.


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